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The power of community engagement: A safer future for law enforcement

December 21, 2023  By Julien Heon

Photo: freshidea / Adobe Stock

For the past decade, officer’s health and safety has been at the forefront of the industry. Thought leaders like IACP and CACP have organized wellness-specific conferences, and the topic has been omnipresent at just about every provincial or national law enforcement event. We have seen an improvement in ergonomics, innovation on mental health solutions, studies and experiments on various aspects of the duty of officers, such as work shifts, vehicles and equipment.

Law enforcement is an industry that stands out, namely, for the risks associated with the job, as well as the very long tenure of the workforce. Generous pension plans make it more and more difficult for officers to leave their position, and as the officers age, the duty becomes more and more difficult on their physical and mental health. It becomes a toll on the employers as well, who bear the costs of officers going on leave, which explains the investments made in researching solutions to make the day-to-day easier and safer for all.

While most agencies are embarking on these occupational health trends, there’s another factor that stands out with a few innovative agencies – a focus on community engagement. While the Canadian policing landscape is nowhere near what it is in the U.S., there has been an increase in violence and the use of firearms in the last few years.

Trailblazing the community engagement concept was the Longueuil, Que., police department, launching a “social policing” unit in 2021. A 20-officer team was appointed to specific boroughs, patrolling by foot and being tasked with building stronger connections with their respective community. The officers make their cell phone numbers available – with the idea that some individuals who may not want to be seen interacting with the police or calling 911 might be more likely to engage if they have a strong link with the officers. On the flip side, the goal also aims to decrease the 911 calls for non-urgent matters.


A more visible police service will be a more effective police service.

The early findings were positive, with some boroughs seeing a decrease in 911 calls by as high as 25 per cent. While the project kept the same scale, the police chief who put this in place in Longueuil, Fady Dagher, has since moved to lead the Montreal police department—one of the country’s largest municipal agencies, and one where the gun violence is on the rise.

It’s fair to say that a greater sense of community engagement and relationship between the public and police will result in a safer environment for officers. The more respect and acceptance there is from the community towards law enforcement, the safer the officers will be as they fulfill their duties. Agencies who are at the forefront understand that they are delivering a service to their community and that these communities have a right to be satisfied by the level of service provided. In the U.S., more and more agencies are putting technologies in place that allow citizens to follow their 911 calls and get updates by text message, going as far as sending a satisfaction survey after the incident is closed.

A more visible police service will be a more effective police service. From the chief to the officers patrolling the streets, if there is a sense of proximity, the investigations will be more effective, the streets will be safer, and the agencies will see their recruitment becoming easier. We may even see fewer members leaving their policing careers.

Community engagement is important in an era where we must remind the population that police officers are there to serve and protect first and foremost. Ultimately, building a stronger sense of community might be one of the new ways to make policing safer.

Julien Heon spent the last several years working with police agencies implementing health and safety programs. He has been speaking on the topic of officer’s safety at national and provincial conferences and given over 200 media interviews on the topic of organizational health and safety.

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